Profile: Hinewehi Mohi – Māori musician

Like other unique New Zealand icons – the flightless Kiwi bird, Sir Peter Jackson and the All Blacks – Hinewehi Mohi is one of New Zealand’s greatest gifts.

For over 20-years, this diminutive star has been wowing audiences around the world with her captivating, raw and emotionally charged music - sung entirely in Te Reo Māori which is New Zealand’s native language.

And, for what the soft-spoken singer, songwriter and television producer may lack in stature, she certainly makes up for in talent and heart.

Born in the historic Hawke’s Bay country town of Waipukurau - on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand - to a Māori father and ‘Pakeha’ mother of British and Irish descent, Hinewehi has often credited her father for helping her develop a deep insight into Māori culture.

Spirit of Māori

Having embraced her culture, Hinewehi set off on a quest to highlight the importance of keeping the spirit of Māori alive, whilst bringing this distinctive culture to the attention of not only New Zealanders, but also the world.

It was in 1999 that the first of Hinewehi’s three albums was released - Oceania is a beautiful collection of haunting melodies and the first Māori language album to be distributed internationally.

In 1999 - while in London promoting her debut album - Hinewehi found herself inadvertently thrust into the international limelight when she was asked to perform the New Zealand national anthem before the All Blacks played at Twickenham, the home of English rugby.

The brave young New Zealander stunned rugby crowds and created headlines in her homeland after singing the national anthem entirely in Māori - while it was not the first time the national anthem had been sung that way, it was Hinewehi’s rendition that brought the culturally-significant version to the attention of the world.

Since then, the national anthem of Aotearoa - New Zealand has been sung loud and proud in both English and Māori, and New Zealanders have Hinewehi to thank for that.

Universal appeal

Two more albums have followed since Hinewehi’s internationally acclaimed, platinum-selling debut.

Oceania II was a collaborative effort with accomplished British musician and composer Jaz Coleman. This well-received collection of captivating refrains saw Hinewehi grow and strengthen her universal appeal.

But along with the highs, there have also been some lows for the star with the sunny disposition.

In 1996 Hinewehi’s daughter, Hineraukatauri, was born with cerebral palsy. This was an intensely difficult time for the singer who recently admitted that expression through music gave her a chance to ‘grieve’.

Instrumental turning point

Hineraukatauri’s birth became an instrumental turning point in the life and career of Hinewehi.

In March 2004, she opened the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre, an Auckland-based center named in honour of her now 17-year-old daughter and inspired by Hine Raukatauri, the Goddess of Flutes.

The Centre is the first of its kind in New Zealand and a haven for those coping with a range of disabilities.

Tough times struck once again for Hinewehi with a diagnosis of breast cancer in June 2011, and just a few months later she underwent a double mastectomy. But, once again the undaunted Hinewehi managed to find the silver lining in the cloudiest sky, seeing the illness as chance to promote awareness of the undiscriminating disease in other women.

Rising above is something Hinewehi seems to do effortlessly.

In 2013, she released her third album, Raukatauri -Te Puhi o te Tangi. This sublime recording gives some of Hinewehi’s biggest hits a classical makeover, with the help of a 35-piece Auckland Chamber Orchestra. Proceeds from the sale of the album have been donated to the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre.

Nationally celebrated event

As well as promoting Māori culture to the world, Hinewehi is a natural New Zealand beauty who has done plenty in her own backyard.

She has been one of the driving forces in promoting the Māori New Year festival Matariki - the Māori name for the cluster of stars otherwise known as Pleiades - which is now a nationally celebrated event.

Hinewehi was also a semi-finalist for New Zealander of the Year 2013. While distinguished scholar, writer and environmentalist Dame Anne Salmond, took out the award, it also provided the occasion for Hinewehi’s many friends and colleagues to publicly acknowledge her many personal qualities and contributions.

Hinewehi Mohi is a remarkable woman of her time. A Kiwi who has seamlessly managed to unify New Zealand, embody her ancient culture and make it relevant and interesting to the world of today.

Many talented Māori and New Zealand singers, artist, filmmakers and performers have made their names across the world, but few have achieved this success with as much determination, beauty, selflessness and grace as the wonderful Hinewehi Mohi - a true New Zealand treasure.